YELP Class of 2019 Valedictorian Speech

The speech was delivered by the Young and Emerging Leader's Project (YELP) Class of 2019 Valedictorian Mohamed Okash Sugow on 8 February, 2020.

Thank You, Kwezi for the kind Introduction. Thank You! Thank You, Everyone. It is always great to be back here in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, a very beautiful country with very beautiful people.

Good Afternoon.

Our founder Awel, Director Kwezi, the Board of trustees, the faculty members, the Alumni, the leadership team, the partners, the guest of speaker today Mr Patrick Mweheire and more importantly the class of 2019.

Congratulations on your incredible achievement, and thank you for the honour, thank you for believing in me and choosing me as the Valedictorian of the class of 2019. But, today I will be speaking on behalf of every one of you since there should be only one Valedictorian speech.

I am told that the last two Valedictorians were Cleofash Alinaitwe from Uganda and Wanjūhī Njoroge from Kenya, meaning I will be either winning a 10,000 USD grant or will be speaking at the UN General Assembly or Davos.

My fellow Young Leaders,

On 14th December 2018, I received an email from the LeO Africa Institute congratulating me upon being shortlisted for the Young and Emerging Leaders Project class of 2019; it was not only a moment of joy and happiness but a moment of reclaiming my purpose.

YELP has been an incredible and transformational journey not only limited to leadership but also at a personal level with 22 young African Leaders From Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, D.R. Congo and Burundi.

On March 22-24 2019, our journey together began from Mukono at Kasenge Forest Resort, where we had our first seminar on “Shaping Personal Leadership”.

From there, I united with my class of 2019, a class that doesn’t only take pride in and share values as Africans, but also comrades leading a cause and initiative to contribute to building the Africa we want – an Africa that is peaceful, prosperous, and integrated.

What will always remain in our deep memories are the pan-African readings, the leadership conversations, the African storytelling during campfire, the forest walk, the morning runs, the camping, and the lifelong connection we made.

Although we came from different countries and speak different languages, we hold single a vision for bettering Africa, Ubuntu.

On August 8-11, 2019, we met again in Kalangala for the second seminar on “Achieving and Managing Success”. It was an amazing experience to explore our own abilities and discuss rarely debated topics like failure, pain and troughs, and also to relate values that underpin success to the well-being of people around us. We also enjoyed a range of content-focused sessions on “how to define success” and “how to deal with challenges,” as well as on “identity in a Pan-African context”.

After the second seminar we had the confidence to claim that we no longer fear failure and can accommodate failure and pain since they are part of the process of becoming who we truly want to be and what exactly we want to achieve in the world. And now we are here for our third seminar on “ living your legacy”.

My Fellow Comrades

As I speak today, it is almost 6 decades to the day we lost Comrade Patrice Lumumba; it is 5 decades since the day we lost Dr Martin Luther King; 4 decades since the day we lost Steve Biko; and over 3 decades since the day we lost Comrade Samora Michel and Thomas Sankra.

So the question is: are we living the life they wanted us to live or making alive their aspirations? They all sacrificed their lives for the cause of common good.

Some of us often re-read Comrade Patrice Lumumba’s letter from Thysville prison to Mrs Lumumba and Dr King’s letter from the Birmingham Jail to reflect on their journey and struggle for freedom, but that might not be sufficient.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Today, more than 1 billion people live in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day), the majority of them living in Africa.

Today, 8 men have as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion poorest people (half the world population). Today, about 263 million children and youth are out of school, including 61 million children of primary school age.

Today, more than a billion people don’t have access to electricity.

The number of people living in slums and shantytowns is now estimated at 863 million. While youth were almost three times more likely than adults to be unemployed.

Despite all those challenges in the world and more particularly in Africa, there are huge opportunities for growth on the continent.

It was just last month when the UK-Africa Summit took place in London. Before that there had been the China-Africa Summit, Japan-Africa Summit, India-Africa Summit, Russia-Africa Summit, US-Africa Summit, and many others.

So, why are all these countries interested in Africa?

They see opportunities. They see Africa as the hub for trade and investment; a continent with a population of 1.2 billion people and expected to rise to 2.5 billion by 2050; a rising middle class, rapid urbanization and structural transformation – and a growing labour workforce.

The Agenda 2063, The Africa Continental Free Trade Area, silencing the Guns by 2020 and African Peace fund and ongoing AU reforms are also among the key drivers of this transformation.

As we now enter a decade of Action and delivery on the Global Goals, we the young leaders should make sure that no one is left behind by 2030.

My fellow young leaders,

To achieve transformative action requires transformative thinking. As the agents of change. We must scale up our efforts to end poverty and inequality, tackle climate change, sustain peace and empower the young people with latest opportunities, driven by the 4th industrial revolution – from artificial intelligence to robotics, Nano technology to machine learning and quantum computing.

My dear brothers and sisters

If Africa has to transform; if Africa has survive in this century; we, the young people, should take responsibility and lead towards socio-economic and political transformation in our countries and the continent at large.

Finally, Since we are shaping our present, I am fully confident that we can shape our future for the sake of the future generation.

As we celebrate Black History month, I want to end my speech with a quote by the great African-American president, Barack Obama, who said:

“Now that triumph must be won once more, and it must be won by you. And I am particularly speaking to the young people all across Africa and right here in [East Africa]. You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people. You can serve in your communities, and harness your energy and education to create new wealth and build new connections to the world. You can conquer disease, end conflicts, and make change from the bottom up. You can do that. Yes, you can. Because at this moment, history is on the move.”

So Africa has to move and move forward and upwards.

Thank you.

God bless you and God Bless Africa.

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